Seven Simple Steps to a Better Quality Online Course

By Matthew Livengood-Clouse, Instructional Design Coordinator, Educational Technologies at Missouri

  1. Take the time beforehand to explain your expectations. For many, teaching or taking an e-learning course is a brand new experience. Use your syllabus to describe student roles, instructor responsibilities, and the community nature of an e-learning course. Our sample syllabus (.rtf) is available for you to download, use, and even pillage.
  2. Align unit objectives with your course outcomes. Although a syllabus (almost) always contains stated goals or desired outcomes for the whole course, you shouldn’t forget to include discrete, measurable objectives for each unit. How will course readings, lectures, videos, and activities enhance student learning and accomplish your goals
  3. Align your assessments and interactions with unit objectives. Course goals, instructional objectives, assessments, and interactions should align. Use a variety of approaches, like class discussions, group case studies, individual reading quizzes, and peer-reviewed research papers. Providing a well-rounded experience for students will enhance their learning and help you better gauge their comprehension.
  4. Provide clear, detailed grading criteria and be up-front about when/how they’ll receive your feedback. Establish very clear expectations on graded work, especially for online students. We recommend using scoring guides or rubrics, because they clarify each criterion being assessed, and they help students understand precisely how to meet your expectations. Your online students also need to understand your timeframe for giving them feedback (a day? a week?).
  5. Welcome your students and introduce yourself. Just as in a face-to-face course, you should introduce yourself to the class; consider using multiple tools (e.g., an announcement, discussion board posting, introductory Tegrity recording). This is essential, but it’s also an easy way to engender a sense of community. Let your students know a real, live person is teaching the course!
  6. Use common file formats and think about web style and conventions. Think about your students: what kinds of internet connectivity (dial-up? broadband?) do they have? What kind of computer do they use? Also, remember that your materials are being posted online and read on a computer screen, so make them easy to read (choose sans-serif fonts over serif ones) and avoid underlines (online, they suggest a hyperlink, not emphasis).
  7. Keep it simple. Rarely will “simple and straightforward” let you down. Overly-complicated navigation or convoluted directions only make things less clear to students (if you can’t find something, how will your students?).